The Mech Touch Chapter 538

539 Repair Work
Trozin's question came out of the blue. This wasn't the first time Ves heard something like this. One thing about the Flagrant Vandals was that they incessantly chatted about topics that ordinarily shouldn't be discussed. Besides strictly classified material, everything was fair game.

Her question echoed the concerns of many Vandals assigned to the Verle Task Force. Why did the main fleet split in two, and why had Colonel Lowenfield gathered all of their best assets to the fleet that fled in the direction of home?

The Verle Task Force could have fled to the Bright Republic ass well after taking a small detour. In fact, their chances of making it through hostile space was significantly higher if the main fleet reconvened. Splitting their strength at this junction only allowed the Vesians to defeat them in detail.

If nobody questioned this dubious progression, then the Vandals were too stupid to live.

From his occasional inspections, he gathered that the Vandals among the task force felt a bit ambivalent about their supposed mission. The Reinald Republic was a non-entity in their eyes. If the Bright Republic wanted to make contact with Reinald, then they could have sent a simple courier on a roundabout path.

Thus, the most popular theories that circulated among the rank and file attempted to explain this situation.

The first theory was that during the Detemen Operation, the Detemen League hadn't taken their most important captive with them. Instead, Lord Javier of House Eniqqin had actually been handed over to the Flagrant Vandals, who kept this important noble captive within their midst!

If this was true, then they truly carried a hot potato. Count Loqer would never rest while his only natural heir slipped out of his grasp! He would surely wield his influence into intensifying the search for the slippery Vandals.

The second theory that made the rounds was that Colonel Lowenfield or someone higher up the chain of command cold-heartedly cast them off as a distraction to the furious Vesians. If the Vandals fled in a single cohesive fleet, not only would their size make it harder for them to hide, they would also attract an inordinate amount of attention.

Halving their concentration reduced their threat profile because it made it harder for them to raid well-defended star systems along their escape path. This gave some reassurance to the Vesians and lowered their priority to chase the Vandals down. As long as their interests weren't threatened, they had little reason to commit to the hunt.

Although this sounded like a good outcome, it also made it easier for the Vandals to suffer a defeat. If not for the split, the Vandals would never sustain such exaggerated losses against two mech companies of the Calico Dancer Bats.

The Verle Task Force walked a dangerous path right now. Compared to the diminished main fleet that included Colonel Lowenfield, the Wolf Mother, their remaining Senior and Journeyman Mech Designers and more, Ves and Trozin had the illusion that they'd been orphaned.

Of course, even if the Vandals heartlessly decided to write them off, Ves couldn't give in to the cynicism. "I can't answer your question. Even if I knew, there's no reason for me to clear up your confusion. No matter the intentions of the brass, it's not our job to concern ourselves with whatever strategies the Vandals are cooking up."

"Sir, I can't accept that answer." She said in a terse manner. "I've heard that you're close to the major. Surely you must have figured out a hint or two."

"Just drop it, Miss Trozin. No matter what our true mission is, our opinions won't make a difference. Our actions will. Do your work to the best of your ability in order to maximize our chances of survival."

It took some time for Trozin to accept the fact that Ves wouldn't tell her anything. They quickly ended their discussion after that. Since Ves lost his mood to talk, he took an immediate shuttle ride back to the Shield of Hispania.

After the Flagrant Vandals and the Venidse Liberators finished their trade, the two fleets separated from each other and went their separate ways. The Vandals quickly transitioned into FTL as soon as the coast was clear.

The new materials the Liberators traded to the Vandals increased the pace of the ongoing repairs. Many critical shortages had temporarily been addressed, but it wouldn't take long for this abundance to end. The Vandals withheld much of their valuable loot and only let go of the absolute minimum.

They still aimed to bring the valuables they obtained in the Detemen System to the Reinald Republic where they could expect to exchange them for fair market prices.

The difference between selling the loot to the rebels and selling it at a neutral market amounted to at least fifty billion credits! That sum alone wiped off a fourth of their debt burden!

No matter what, they couldn't let go of such a juicy prize. Even if their mechs and ships began to run ragged, the Vandals still hated to let go of so much credits. Some would even die for the Vandals to succeed!

More mechs received repairs. They temporarily decided to halt the restoration of the landbound mechs in favor of restoring their spaceborn combat capabilities. During the previous skirmish, a lot of Inheritors sustained damage.

The new materials allowed the mech technicians to begin with implementing more drastic repairs. Heavily-damaged or outright wrecked specimens of Inheritor mechs required a significant amount of resources to replace what wasn't there anymore.

Space combat had a tendency to fling debris and broken parts across light-years. Complete recovery of every piece of salvage couldn't be done on the battlefield. Besides, the Vandals had been in a hurry back then, so they didn't bother retrieving anything but the bare essentials.

This left the task force with a fair amount of partially-intact Inheritor mechs. As the light skirmisher model boasted fairly thin armor, the damage these mechs sustained often amounted to serious internal damage. Lost limbs and holes that ran through the entire frame was not an uncommon sight.

Compared to the mechs that only fried their internals, these seriously-damaged mechs required much more materials to supplement their losses.

Ves spent a fair amount of time to plan out the repairs. Over fifty heavily-damaged Inheritor mech frames each exhibited different battle wounds. Normal procedure would have been to delegate the repair plans to the mech designers on site, but Ves decided to draw up the plans himself due to his superior ability.

By making the plans himself, he prevented his incompetent subordinates from fumbling through the repair process and waste an inordinate amount of resources and time.

The work happened to stimulate him. Each individual mech was a unique creation. Though they all drew upon the same Inheritor design, months or years of continued use had let to the proliferation of small divergences and minor idiosyncrasies.

"Every mech is unique. The older they are, the more they take on their own life."

From a professional standpoint, this was a natural but not entirely welcome development. Each mech differed in small ways as mech pilots sought out the closest mech designers at hand to request modest tweaks and modifications to cater to their individual piloting style.

Mech pilots ordinarily stuck to their assigned mechs for years. This constant and continued use of the same mech by the same pilot inevitably led to a divergence in their evolution.

The reason why this wasn't a desirable development was that it made it harder to implement global upgrades to the design. It also complicated mass repair work. The Vandals worked with a fleet of fairly aged mechs, each of which had gone through three or more rounds of modification.

This meant that to repair these individual works, they each required their own tailor-made repair plan. If clueless mech technicians decided to apply standard upgrades, then the chances of introducing faults magnified to an unacceptable level.

The design of the Inheritor was exceedingly complex for such a cheap mech. It incorporated many nuances that Ves didn't entirely understand. Nonetheless, out of every mech designer in the task force, Ves tentatively believed his understanding of the design exceeded others by a wide margin. Thus, he straightforwardly snatched this task from the hands of his subordinates and returned with complete repair plans only a day later.

Out of every Skill that helped, Ves had to thank his Jury-Rigging Sub-Skill the most. The knowledge provided by this Sub-Skill enabled him to find substitutes to more expensive materials. In essence, it allowed him to do less with more. Although his makeshift solutions cut a lot of corners, the damaged Inheritors should at least be able to last long enough to reach the end of this mission.

Everything seemed to go well since they entered Venidse. The large and industrious duchy boasted lots of star systems, of which Venidse invested only a fraction of their wealth to inhabit them. If Venidse wanted to find their trace, they faced the same difficulty as finding a needle in a haystack.

With the Venidse Liberators covering their back, the Vandals received some assurances of their safe passage. Ves heard some rumors in the corridors that one of the reasons why the Vandals allowed themselves to be ripped off in their recent trade was to increase their reward for performing this service for the task force.

After all, the relations between the different rebel groups and the Flagrant Vandals looked like a mixed bag. The Vandals had a much better relationships with the rebel groups that operated close to the border between the Bright Republic and Vesia Kingdom.

Now that they crossed over to the other side of the Kingdom, the Vandals pretty much traveled through uncharted territory for them. They had never come into contact with the Venidse Liberators before. If not for the introduction and mediation by the Vesian Revolutionary Front, the Vandals would have been forced to fight through countless mechs in order to cross through their territory.

Still, extending their trust to complete strangers had their downsides. Just as they arrived near the border between Venidse and Klein, the task force emerged into a tiny star system that wasn't as desolate as they thought.

The first signs of something wrong was when the alarms blared throughout the entire fleet! Explosive shells thundered out of nowhere and detonated against the engines of several important ships!

They were under attack!

"Everyone get to battle stations!"

"No signs of enemy mechs or ships in the vicinity!"

"We are being hit by close-ranged shells! Our assailants are in stealth!"

"Deploy anti-stealth measures!"

Over seven ships simultaneously incurred substantial damage to their thrusters and engines. Two more ships sustained heavy damage to their engineering bays. Besides felling a substantial amount of engineers, the shells also managed to damage the outer housing of their all-important FTL drives!

Without any FTL, they could forget about escape!

The moment the alarms blasted against their ears, Ves and Iris looked at each other with panic and immediately changed into their hazards suits. After his previous ordeals, Ves made a habit out of cramming in a couple of emergency supplies in his cabin and workplace.

This came incredibly handy at this moment as it took barely a minute for them to become enclosed in protective armor.

Though they looked rather goofy, the rest of the Vandals adjusted their outer appearances as well. Decompression, lethal radiation and intensive temperature fluctuations all possessed enough harm to snuff out their lives if they gathered in strength.

The spacers aboard the Shield of Hispania largely didn't bother wearing anything bulky. They largely adorned their own brand of vacsuits that didn't hinder their precision work. In exchange, their suits only protected them from a certain level of damage.

Ves daydreamed about cladding himself with the most superior armor as he stepped inside the command center and took his usual seat. Only half of the console operators arrived so far. The inconvenient timing made it clear that this attack was preordained.

"What happened?"

"Stealth mechs are attacking our mechs! They don't have the firepower to destroy on of our ships, so instead they are attempting to sabotage our mobility!"